Archive for June 15th, 2011

China: Children Poisoned by Lead and Denied Treatment


Officials Prevent Access to Care, Intimidate and Detain Parents

Posted 15 June 2011, by Staff, Human Rights Watch,

(Hong Kong) – Chinese government officials in provinces with high rates of industrial pollution are restricting access to lead testing, withholding and falsifying test results, and denying children treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Family members and journalists seeking information about the problem are intimidated and harassed, Human Rights Watch said. Such actions violate Chinese law and condemn hundreds of thousands of children to permanent mental and physical disabilities.

The 75-page report, “‘My Children Have Been Poisoned’: A Public Health Crisis in Four Chinese Provinces,” draws on research in heavily lead-contaminated villages in Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi, and Hunan provinces. The report documents how, despite increasing regulation and sporadic enforcement targeting polluting factories, local authorities are ignoring the urgent and long-term health consequences of a generation of children continuously exposed to life-threatening levels of lead.

“Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Parents, journalists, and community activists who dare to speak out about lead are detained, harassed, and ultimately silenced.”

Over the past decade, numerous mass lead poisoning incidents have been reported across the country. In response, Environmental Protection Ministry officials have become more outspoken, directing local officials to increase supervision of factories and enforce existing environmental regulations. The ministry has also said that it will pursue criminal penalties for businesses and local officials who violate environmental restrictions.

However, these promises fall short of addressing the health consequences of lead poisoning and fulfilling the right to health for children exposed to lead, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities need to make sure that the immediate and long-term health care needs of people in contaminated villages are taken care of, and that the polluted areas are cleaned up.

“It’s not enough to penalize factory owners and officials after a village is severely contaminated,” Amon said. “The government needs to provide treatment and to make sure that children aren’t immediately re-exposed to toxic levels of lead.”

The report documents how local authorities in contaminated areas have imposed arbitrary limits on access to blood lead testing, for example by permitting only people living within a small radius of a factory to be tested. When tests are conducted, results have often been contradictory or have been withheld from victims and their families. And children with elevated blood lead levels who require treatment according to national guidelines have been denied care or told simply to eat certain foods, including apples, garlic, milk, and eggs.

Lead is highly toxic and can interrupt the body’s neurological, biological, and cognitive functions. The ingestion of high levels of lead can cause brain, liver, kidney, nerve, and stomach damage as well as anemia, comas, convulsions, and even death. Children are particularly susceptible, and high levels of lead exposure can cause permanent intellectual and developmental disabilities, including reading and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hearing loss, attention problems, and disruption in the development of visual and motor functioning.

The report details the experiences of dozens of parents whose children are suffering the acute and chronic effects of lead poisoning. One mother from Yunnan province said:

The doctor told us all the children in this village have lead poisoning. Then they told us a few months later that all the children are healthy. They wouldn’t let us see the results from the tests though.

A grandmother in Shaanxi province is quoted in the report describing her attempts to get treatment for her grandson. She said:

The government gave us some garlic and told us to give our grandson extra garlic. We asked about medicine, something to make him better. They said they wouldn’t give us any because medicine for lead poisoning doesn’t work.

In recent years, the Chinese government has promoted a number of environmental regulations aimed at curbing widespread industrial pollution and protecting the environment and public health. However, enforcement has been uneven, and little has been done to reduce lead levels in villages that are already heavily contaminated. The failure to address the rights of the people in these villages to health care and a healthy environment places China at odds with its obligations under both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Human Rights Watch identified a number of recommendations for responding to the lead poisoning crisis. The Health Ministry should ensure that scientifically sound methods are used to designate the area of risk for lead exposure and ensure that everyone in that area is offered free blood lead testing, Human Rights Watch said. Health authorities should also provide evidence-based medical treatment and case management for lead poisoning. The Environmental Protection Ministry should immediately test pollution levels around factories near residential areas, and revise environmental laws to ensure that factories that pose immediate danger to public health are shut down until they meet national emissions standards. The government needs to follow through on its commitment to prosecute officials and factory owners who fail to uphold environmental regulations, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Chinese government has begun to realize that the environmental cost of massive toxic pollution is unacceptable,” Amon said. “Unfortunately, it has yet to address the health consequences for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children who face the dire consequences of the government’s neglect.”

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Pools of wellness

Pools of wellness

Posted 15 June 2011, by Arjun Kumar, Economic Times (The Times of India),,

Just as water is best appreciated in summer, stories about step-wells are best read in the dry season. Especially when the step-wells in question are not merely holes in the ground but richly decorated historical structures that were not just a perennial source of water for the people around but also a power statement for those who built them.

Step-wells like the Rani-ki-vav at Patan in Gujarat, the Chand Baoli at Abhaneri in Rajasthan’s Dausa district and the Rudabai step-well at Adalaj in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar, to name but three, are iconic in their size and design. Rani-ki-vav is named after its patron-builder Queen Udaymati, wife of Solanki King Bhimdev (1022-63) and is believed to have been completed in the second half of the 11th century.

Patan, now a small town dwarfed by Ahmedabad, was the capital of the Solankis and was called Anahilvada. The step-well is laid out in an eastwest direction, the main well being in the west and the entrance in the east. While the well itself is dilapidated, the staircase and the walls of the stepped corridor are intact.

The ornamentation on the walls on both sides runs the entire length of the structure and is rich, with a mix of mythological figures, geometrical shapes and floral designs. On the walls and the niches are a pantheon of gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, Ganesh, Kuber, Indra and others, many with consorts. While the place is no longer in use as a step-well, the richness of detailing on these figures still draws people.

Closer to Ahmedabad is the stepwell at Adalaj. As in the case of the vav at Patan, this one too is believed to have a woman as its patron-builder. Ruda, after whom the step-well is named, was the consort of Vaghela chief Virasimha. An inscription in the well dates it to 1499. Unlike the well at Patan, the Adalaj vav is built in a north-south direction and has three entrances that come together in a platform at the first level underground.

The well has a stepped corridor, which descends underground with four pavilions across five levels. Almost as richly embellished as the vav at Patan, the recurring motif here is of fighting elephants. There are fewer gods and goddesses and the most significant icon is that of a lion built into a niche on a pavilion. The lion, which carries a trident on its back, is believed to represent the goddess Durga as her celestial vehicle.

Gujarat is dotted with numerous step-wells, each more beautiful than the last. Move a little to the north and the vavs of Gujarat give way to the baolis (also called baoris) of Rajasthan and Haryana. Buried in the obscurity of the countryside in Dausa district is the village of Abhaneri where the Chand Baoli stands. Built by Nikhumba Rajput ruler Chandra in the 8th-9th century, the baoli is square in shape and has nearly 3,500 steps to the bottom, making it one of the deepest in India.

Two niches projecting into the well from a lower pavilions have iconoraphy depicting Ganesh and the goddess Mahisasura-mardini. Rajasthan and Haryana probably have more step-wells than Gujarat but the latter scores as vavs have extensive structural decoration and more polished iconography. The higher degree of decoration is probably on account of greater funding being available from wealthy merchants in Gujarat compared with Rajasthan where the baolis were a public necessity built by cash-strapped rulers of states that were often conflict- ridden.

Delhi has its share of step-wells too. Of these, Agrasen-ki-baoli is notable. Rectangular in shape and 103 steps deep, the baoli looks like it is out of a time machine because of its location – the towers of Delhi’s central business district loom above it. Maharaja Agrasen is believed to have built the step-well in the 15th century with the mosque being a later addition. There is also a baoli at Nizamuddin, whose water is believed to have had miraculous healing powers.

Another baoli whose waters were said to have healing powers – on account of their sulphur content – is the Gandhak-ki- baoli, in Mehrauli village. There are other step-wells in Delhi, from large ones like the Rajaon-ki-baoli in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park to smaller ones like the Arab-ki-sarai within the Humayun Tomb complex.

While the region running westwards from Delhi to Gujarat via Haryana and Rajasthan has the most step-wells, the construction of such structures to store water went into other regions as well. An example of an early Mughal era step-well is the one built by Babar at Fatehpur Sikri, just outside the Hathi (Elephant) gateway.

A large, long-dry well located outside a garhi or fortified monastery in Ranod village of Shivpuri district is representative of step-wells in Madhya Pradesh. In the south, stepwells occur in proximity to religious places thus doubling up as temple tanks. That point brings us to the question of why the step-wells were constructed in the first place.

It is not mere chance that some of India’s largest, finest and certainly the most numerous step-wells are concentrated in the states of Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat, extending into parts of Uttar Pradesh and even Madhya Pradesh. From time immemorial, long stretches of north-west India have been largely arid. The only time these parts have ample water is in the monsoon season – a period that lasts barely three months. Water storage was thus critical.

Step-well construction originated in Gujarat in the sixth and seventh centuries when wells and trenches were dug either to reach perennial sources of water below ground level or to dam-up rainwater. To make the place easier to access, walls were lined and the slope towards the lowest level of the well paved with stone stairs. The success of the idea saw it spreading to other parts of the country.

Step-well construction went on for nearly 1000 years with royal patrons recognizing the importance of the concept and giving it a push. The most highly embellished step- wells are the ones where the patron took a greater interest. Step-wells went beyond being just sources of water. They were public places and congregation points, especially for women whose role was to bring water to the house.

Two facts – that numerous patrons of step-wells were women and that iconography depicting goddesses is often found in the structures – are clear pointers to their being used more by women. This is also borne out by the Chand Baoli, where the step-well needs to be seen as a part of a larger complex that also contains the Harshta Mata temple, dedicated to a goddess who represented joy and happiness.

In the case of some step-wells, their water was likened to the holy water of the Ganges, thus giving them a spiritual dimension and making bathing in them a purification ritual. So if the concept was so successful, why is it that almost all such structures have dried up and are in disuse?

The blame for that has to be put on the British. Horrified by the fact that the unsanitary seeming step-wells were the common source of both drinking and bathing water, the British began establishing pipes, pumps and taps. Their objective was to keep out the guinea worm, a waterborne parasite, from drinking water. They succeeded all too well, and in doing so, ensured that step-wells became obsolete even for bathing purposes.

Modern-day India continues to use the British system without any change. However, with groundwater levels dropping alarmingly all over the country, maybe it is time to revisit the use of step-wells to improve groundwater. Remember, step-well construction was done with ground water enhancement in mind: the rainwater running off into the bottom of the well percolated down into the ground till it reached an impermeable layer of soil.

While the soil absorbed the silt, what was left above was clear water. The wishing wells of yesterday may not be sources of drinking water nor do they have religious significance, but in their subterranean recesses may lie a solution to many water shortage problems.

How green was our Valley?


How green was our Valley?


Posted 13 June 2011, by Sheree Bega, IOL Scitech,

Puseletso Matsepe Daniels misses her seven children, but she won’t risk letting them live with her on her father’s farm in Steel Valley.

That will only happen, she says, when she is certain the land beneath her feet is no longer contaminated.

“I’m scared for their lives,” Daniels says of her predicament. “They will not come here until we make sure the area is cleaned up and suitable for living.”

So, instead, her children live with relatives in other parts of Vanderbijlpark while Daniels and her husband stay put on the farm, which neighbours ArcelorMittal’s Vanderbijlpark steel works, determined to ensure the legacy of her father, Strike Matsepe, endures.

In the early 1990s Matsepe, a former mechanic, cashed in his pension and bought land “at the time of Mandela when people could buy wherever they liked”, he stated years ago.

But then his land and groundwater supplies became so contaminated that the crops withered, his cattle perished and animals were born with birth defects.

Later, Matsepe was hospitalised for kidney failure while his sister, who lived on the farm with him, died of cancer and kidney failure.

He no longer lives on the land that once made him so proud, but the sickly Matsepe, now in his 80s, is determined to be compensated properly, unlike many of his neighbours in Steel Valley, a collection of once-thriving smallholdings.

Most of his neighbours are long gone – around 500 families once lived in Steel Valley, but only four families remain on the blighted land. Matsepe mobilised his neighbours to challenge the then state-owned Iscor in court, but these bids failed, resulting in out-of-court settlements that divided the community.

“They (Iscor) bought out everybody, but my father didn’t want to settle,” says Daniels. “He came up with his own price and Iscor didn’t want to take it. He wants to be compensated properly. He is sick and an old man now.”

She points to her vegetable garden, in which weathered-looking spinach seem to cling to life. “The ground is polluted. Our vegetables are not growing properly, but what can we do?”

Her house smells like dust, which settles as black as the night on her walls and furniture, flying in from the ash heap across the road. “We must always close our doors and windows and suffocate. I’m a lady and I cannot even have lace curtains. We hate it when the wind blows.”

But, slowly, improvements are being made. ArcelorMittal (formerly Iscor) is now rehabilitating the mountainous slagheap across the road, which Daniels welcomes. “It’s not as bad as it used to be. At least they are doing something.”

In 2007, the Department of Environmental Affairs listed a litany of environmental legislation contraventions and non-compliance by ArcelorMittal, including dumping hazardous waste on a prohibited site as well as significant pollution of groundwater and surface water.

Siegfried Spanig, the group manager of environment at ArcelorMittal, is “proud” the waste disposal site is now 40 percent rehabilitated.

“The rehabilitation entails shaping the waste site nicely and capping it. We’re putting a liner on top of the waste body, which is mainly slag, to prevent the ingress of rain water into the waste body.

“The leachate generation will be stopped. It won’t stop overnight, but will stop over time,” Spanig says.

But Samson Mokoena, a co-ordinator for the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, believes too little is being done to remediate decades of underground pollution.

He, too, has a personal link with Steel Valley – his parents owned a smallholding here, but were later forced to sell to Iscor.

“This used to be a nice community. There was a small dairy here,” he gestures to a barren piece of land. “And a shop there. We had a nice church. We were a close community and it was very mixed and vibrant. That was back in the early 1990s.

“But then we noticed the water pollution directly affecting our lives. Our cattle started dying and there were miscarriages. Many people have cancer, lung disease and kidney failure. Now, all these years later, the soil is not rehabilitated, the groundwater is contaminated, it is left the way it was. Has ArcelorMittal stopped the underground water contamination in Steel Valley? No. How much have they invested in fixing the destruction of land? Nothing.

“So when you (ArcelorMittal) talk about the historical legacy, you need to make sure you speak to people who are part and parcel of the land, who have history and heritage in this land. For me as an African, you’ll never fix anything if the land is destroyed. You’ve done nothing.”

It was in Steel Valley that Mokoena’s environmental activism sprouted, as if from a seed.

Now, together with Daniels, he is working on setting up the Steel Valley Foundation, arising from the Steel Valley Crisis Committee, which first took Iscor on years ago.

“There are lots of stories, archival material and photos of the community which used to be here that we want to collect. There are photos and maps. It needs to be known that people never moved here because they wanted to. They had to either negotiate with Iscor or their property was attached because of all the legal fees. We want to remember everybody and how they have suffered. When we had a right to an environment that is clean and safe, the state turned a blind eye to us.”

A 2006 report, “Throwing stones at a giant”, an account of the Steel Valley struggle against pollution, by the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, referred to the battle between Steel Valley landowners and Iscor/ ArcelorMittal as a “David and Goliath type of struggle because in mobilising against Mittal Steel the local community is challenging one of the giants of corporate globalisation”.

The report concluded that the Iscor steel works had been the source of dangerous air, groundwater and surface pollution “which has impacted catastrophically on its neighbours” and spoke of “ongoing and serious pollution of people and the environment”.

But ArcelorMittal says it has undertaken significant projects to rehabilitate the environment, including the recent opening of its state-of-the-art, R225 million dust extraction facilities in Vereeniging.

“If you look at the facility now, you won’t see any dust coming from the stacks and from the building,” says Spanig. “The emission values we see at the moment are well below the legal limits. It works like a charm. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved in Vereeniging.

“If you look at Vanderbijlpark, the situation has improved tremendously. But we still need to admit it’s work in progress.”

He points out how sulphur dioxide emissions, which are linked to respiratory illnesses and lung disease, had reduced by 40 percent in Vanderbijlpark from the peak of 2009. “Since 2007 we’ve spent a billion rand on air pollution projects only, and we’ll spend about a billion more until 2015 on other projects.”

Spanig says stricter environmental legislation has played its part in the company’s drive for sustainability, but it’s also the “right thing to do”.

“With waste, we’ve achieved a turnaround. No waste is disposed of on unlined areas anymore… We’re addressing the root cause of underground pollution”.

But Mokoena questions this as he points to a canal flowing with black water, that reeks of chemicals from ArcelorMittal’s steel mill.

He says this conflicts with the company’s claims that it adopts a zero effluent discharge system, where all processed water and effluent are desalinated and reused on site.

“This is a canal that flows into the Rietspruit, which flows into the Vaal River. There are small farms that use this water, people who fish in the Vaal barrage, but this water is contaminated for them. ArcelorMittal is still releasing toxic water to the environment and communities. My argument is it has spent millions on its zero effluent discharge status, but this is not working.

“ArcelorMittal speaks of all the investment its has made and how it is ‘turning the situation around’, but it will take another 40 years to see the difference.

“They have not dealt with the issues outside their operations. Their pollution moved long ago outside their boundaries to communities, but what have they invested in communities like Boipatong and Bophelong to make sure people live in a clean, safe environment?

“In meetings with us, they have told us the sins of the father (Iscor) are being cleared up, and that ‘we’re moving to a bright future’. They haven’t done anything for me to see that those sins are fully cleansed.”

In ArcelorMittal’s 2010 annual report, it notes how it has conducted “extensive stakeholder mapping exercises to identify key community stakeholder groups” in surrounding communities and has renovated police stations and community halls, built schools and reroofed homes in Bophelong and Boipatong.

But Daniels is sceptical of these corporate social responsibility initiatives. “They are killing people softly. People are still polluted with all the dust from their operations.”

From her small home opposite the steel mill, Aletta Mokoena complains bitterly about the dust.

“It makes my children ill. They are always coughing. There is black ash that comes in everywhere, but we don’t hear anything from this company.”

Spanig acknowledges more can be done. “But what is our biggest social contribution we can make? To reduce our pollution load even further… I can sometimes agree with communities that they don’t always see a difference, especially in winter.

“But that’s not pollution coming from us. That is from domestic coal burning. We won’t deny we don’t generate dust and that there are still various projects planned to reduce the dust levels.”

Between ArcelorMittal and NGOs, there is less acrimony, says Mokoena, but still a deep sense of mistrust remains.

Central to this is the justice alliance’s legal battle to obtain ArcelorMittal’s environmental Master Plan of 2002, which will reveal the effects of a pollution plume from one of its most damaging waste storage dams, Dam 10.

The company, in its latest annual report, says the Master Plan is outdated and irrelevant. But Mokoena doesn’t think so.

“The Master Plan has to be released so we can quantify how far the pollution plume has gone into the Rietspruit. We just want to see how much we’ve been poisoned. But the Department of Water Affairs has allowed them to keep it secret.

“The plan is relevant to our lives and to the people who live around here. We’ve already paid the highest price – we’ve lost our land and our health and we’re still paying.”

But Spanig says a groundwater management plan for Vanderbijlpark is being peer reviewed, and some 400 boreholes have been tested. “Pollution has not reached the Rietspruit. Some pollution has spread to surrounding areas, but the initial pollution fears did not fully materialise.”

Mokoena doubts this and says the company needs to pay up. “We still believe they need to be sued for compensation for personal injury in the international courts, because until there is justice for this community, this matter will never end.”

Daniels agrees: “We don’t want the legacy of Steel Valley to be forgotten. As long as ArcelorMittal is there, the Steel Valley Foundation will be there.” – Saturday Star

Bold thinking and possibility make a dynamic duo: Sustain Ability

Bold thinking and possibility make a dynamic duo

Sustain Ability

Posted 13 June 2011, by Tanya Rumak, The Western Review,

“Public space is for living, doing business, and playing. Its value can’t be measured with economics or mathematics; it must be felt with the soul.” – Enrique Peñalosa

Climate foresight and planetary thinking; sustainable design innovations and passivhaus buildings; walksheds; biomimicry and green chemistry; adaptive re-use and rugged green infrastructure, it all sounds pretty exciting doesn’t it?

All of these terms are sustainability lingo and rather than providing you with what could be a somewhat drab reiteration of a definition that I heard once before, I will leave it to you to put on your detective hat and discover their meaning. Instead, I would like to chat about possibility and what could be the result of some of these ideas coming to fruition.

We live on a planet that is quickly moving towards a population of nine billion people, almost all living in or around cities, facing a massive ecological crisis and an unfaltering technological revolution. Ideas like the ones I mentioned above are no longer just provocative, they’re essential and they are a vision of what is possible.

The kind of bold thinking that we need to engage with to build a truly bright green future is abundant and examples of what others believe are possible inspire me every day.

Take, for example, the dynamic duo of Enrique and Gil Peñalosa, two brothers that changed the face of Bogotá, Columbia in the late 90s.  Bogotá, a city riddled with crime and violence, was due for change. It was the bold thinking of this elected duo with the assistance of their administration that saw the possibility of what could be in this city.

They focused on social equity — equal access of all people to public spaces, services, and facilities, to create a more socially integrated community.

The ideas they came up with were completely off the wall, but they worked. They hired 400 mimes to mimic or poke fun at poor behaviour or reckless driving. They paved bike lanes and sidewalks and chose to not pave adjacent roadways as an effort to curb vehicle use. A bike path and park were developed in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the city. Guess what?  It brought people out into the public space and the neighbourhood’s crime rates plummeted.  This city, once considered one of the most dangerous, took large steps to reduce the problems that plagued it.

All it took was some out of the box thinking and being able to see the long term vision of what was possible. What’s really exciting is that this is happening now! Not in some distant, perfect future.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? I can be reached at 780.514.2221, by email at or on Facebook, Sustainability Drayton Valley!


RDP Youth League slams Govt, ACC


RDP Youth League slams Govt, ACC


Posted 14 June 2011, by Tunomukwathi Asino, New Era,

WINDHOEK -The Rally for Democracy and Progress Youth League (RDPYL) has whacked the government and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in resolutions taken at a Central Committee meeting recently.

Speaking at a press conference at the RDP headquarters on Sunday, RDPYL Secretary Sibuku Malumbano criticised the government’s alleged inability to care for all its citizens. He was referring to Adam and Sara Fredericks who died from exposure to cold weather in the Karas Region last week.

“Any caring, democratic government is viewed on how it takes care of the physically and economically weak, including the old, the minors, the minority groups and the disabled persons,” lamented the RDPYL leader.

“If the Swapo government is a caring one, then we want the people of Namibia to judge it based on some of these preventable, unnecessary and uncalled for deaths,” he said.

Malumbano noted the late Fredericks’s were pensioners who received a monthly social grant of N$500 “which is absolutely too little”.

“They were reported to have been found huddled together in a thin blanket in an old minibus they had been using as their rented home in the backyard of a house in Tseiblaagte, and renting the backyard space for N$50.00,” he said.

“An elderly couple renting a minibus in their own motherland because they have no place they call home, they are landless. And worse still, they only have a thin blanket in a mineral-rich country like Namibia,” Malumbano said.

RDPYL held its central meeting at the Multi-Purpose Youth Centre in Katutura on May 14.

Malumbano said the following resolutions were taken so that “the ongoing intimidations by Swapo Party will no more be tolerated in any way”.

– “All areas in the Republic of Namibia must be free and accessible to all for political campaigns by all political parties and no political party must be restricted.”

– “Permanent and well-paying jobs, with all benefits, should be accessible and made available to all Namibian youth regardless of colour, creed or political affiliation.”

– “The tendency of discriminating against young Namibians by classifying them as ‘struggle kids’, ‘born-frees or ‘those who were born in the country’ must be stopped forthwith.”

Malumbano added that the Deputy Minister of Education, Dr David Namwandi, must be reshuffled from that ministry “because of his involvement in the International University of Management (IUM). There is a serious conflict of interest as IUM receives funding from the Ministry of Education.”

“The ACC should be dissolved because it does not serve the purpose it was intended for, [which] is to root out corruption completely by investigating and arresting all the culprits without fear or favour.”

“Its failure to bring to task those involved in the ODC (N$100 million), NDF (N$3 million), Teko (N$120 million), Social Security Commission (N$30 million), NamPower (N$300 + N$ 250 million) (sic) because they are politically well-connected shows that the ACC has become a tool for the power that be to pretend that they are serious about fighting corruption,” charged the RDPYL secretary.

He said Namibia needs an independent anti-corruption commission with its own budgetary allocation approved by parliament.,%20ACC

RDP Youth League slams Govt, ACC – by Tunomukwathi Asino

From White House to heartland, a call to give up subsidies

From White House to heartland, a call to give up subsidies


Posted 13 June 2011, by (with Lori Montgomery), Washington Post,

HILL CITY, Kan. — This is what Washington’s new austerity has brought.

A freshman Republican congressman, himself a fifth-generation corn farmer and his family a longtime beneficiary of government agricultural subsidies, drove through the endless fields of far-flung western Kansas to deliver a difficult message.

“Everybody needs to share,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp told a few dozen townspeople sitting patiently on the hard wooden benches of the Graham County Courthouse. “If you’re a farmer like me, you’re going to expect less. Something’s going to go away. The direct payments are going to go away.”

Huelskamp appears to be right. Dramatically cutting or eliminating direct crop subsidies, which totaled about $5 billion last year, has emerged as one of the few areas of agreement in the budget talks underway between the White House and congressional leaders of both parties.

In their recent budget proposals, House Republicans and House Democrats targeted farm subsidies, a program long protected by members of both parties. The GOP plan includes a $30 billion cut to direct payments over 10 years, which would slash them by more than half. Those terms are being considered in the debt-reduction talks led by Vice President Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.

“There’s no sacred cows anymore,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a farmer who represents one of the nation’s biggest farming states, said in April in a conference call with Iowa reporters. “The bottom line is, ag should be cut like everything else, but no more than anything else. I think direct payments will be done away with.”

President Obama has also taken aim at farm subsidies, with a plan to scale back payments to farmers with incomes of more than $250,000 a year. These talks come as Congress separately begins crafting a new farm bill, which is passed about every five years and sets the terms of the government’s agricultural programs.

So far, the plans spare the agricultural program that farmers and their backers in Congress say is the most essential: insurance to help growers if they have a bad yield or lose crops because of extreme weather, such as a tornado or drought.

“Crop insurance is really key to making sure that they can manage their risks,” Rep. Kristi L. Noem (R) recently told reporters. She represents South Dakota, another large farming state, and her family owns a ranch that receives direct subsidies. “So we’re going to make sure that that program remains viable and a useful tool for them.”

Although no budget deal has been reached, senior officials on Capitol Hill and at the Agriculture Department said they are operating under the assumption that, at a minimum, direct payments will face major reductions.

At a Senate hearing in May, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told lawmakers that the department is “prepared to do as much as we can with fewer resources, but there is no doubt that cuts will have a real impact on American agriculture and on American people. There will be pain, and everyone will have to sacrifice something.”

That was certainly the approach Huelskamp took with his constituents. He did not promise to go back to Washington and fight to preserve a program that each year funnels about $250 million of public money into farmers’ pockets in his district.

‘It’s all giveaways’

Although farm subsidies are often decried as a form of corporate welfare, Washington’s powerful agribusiness lobbyists have long argued that they help keep rural outposts such as Hill City afloat. And yet, as Huelskamp recently carried his austerity message across the sprawling 1st Congressional District — which is second only to North Dakota’s statewide House district in amount of total subsidies — there was no outcry from farmers.

“I’m sure they’re going to go away. It’s all giveaways — any entitlement program is a giveaway,” said Don Paxson, 72, who farms corn and wheat and said he received about $8,000 this year in subsidies.

“We need to wean them off everything — any income from the government. It’s all a welfare state,” said Carl Quint, 56, another farmer who stands to lose money.

A third farmer, Williard Riggs, 86, shrugged and said: “They’ve got to cut somewhere.”

The government’s farm program arose during the Great Depression to provide a safety net. To protect farmers against big surpluses of commodities such as wheat, corn, soybeans and rice — which lead to falling prices that threaten their livelihoods — the government began awarding cash payments.

The subsidies are based on a formula that includes the amount of tillable land, the type of crops and the farm’s historical production yield. But the payments are not based on how much crop a farmer yields in a given year; a farmer who grows nothing one year would still receive his or her regular payment.

“It’s embarrassing that we still have those levels of payments,” said Dan Glickman, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas and President Bill Clinton’s agriculture secretary. “Agriculture economically is very bullish now, and they don’t need the same kind of programs that they did in the past.”

Lawmakers seem to agree. Democrats and Republicans from farm states are privately warning their local farm bureaus to expect cuts.

“This is a matter of patriotism now,” Glickman said. “Everybody has to share in this thing. And if you don’t need it, you shouldn’t get it.”

‘Cutting its own throat’

Even if individual farmers are willing to give up the subsidies, Huelskamp, who is on the House Agriculture Committee, and other lawmakers are being lobbied from the industry’s official representatives to maintain the program.

Steve Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau, said he wants policymakers to appreciate the economic impact that the subsidies have on farming towns everywhere.

“Our farmers take that money to town and use it to buy farm machinery, vehicles, washing machines,” Baccus said.

Charles Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said that spending on subsidies has fallen dramatically, relative to other government programs. “You cannot in any way claim that rampant government spending over the last several years has been caused by farm programs,” Conner said.

At Huelskamp’s town hall meeting in Hill City, his constituents didn’t so much as wince when the congressman waived a fight to keep subsidies — nor did they at his previous stop in Hoxie, nor at the next stop in Stockton.

After the Hill City gathering, one wheat farmer said in an interview that giving up the direct payments would present an “impossible” strain on his business.

“If they cut those payments, the whole country’s cutting its own throat,” said Allen Trexler, 81.

But Trexler didn’t share his feelings with his congressman. And even if he had, it’s unlikely that he would have changed Huelskamp’s mind.

“You notice I didn’t say, ‘We’re not cutting, and I’m going to go fight to the death,’ ” Huelskamp said in an interview after the town hall meetings. “No. If every single member of Congress came in and said, ‘I’m going to defend my turf,’ you’d have the same [debt problem] — and the people here, they get that.”


Staff writer Lori Montgomery in Washington contributed to this report.






Modern Man’s Shrinking Brain Blamed on Agriculture


Modern Man’s Shrinking Brain Blamed on Agriculture


Posted 13 June 2011, by Talia Tolliver, Gather,


Scientists at Cambridge University recently discovered that modern human’s reliance on agriculture has caused a decline in the size of our bodies, as well as a noticeably shrinking brain.

Overall, there is a 10-percent difference in the size of our bodies, with modern man weighing in at an average of 154 pounds and ancient remains indicating a body weight of between 175 and 182 pounds. At the same time our bodies grew smaller, our brain did too, shrinking from 1,500-cubic-centimeters in ancient times to 1,350-cubic-centimeters today, which is a loss equal to the size of a tennis ball.

Anthropologists believe a change in diet is the cause of our shrinking brain since man shifted from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to agriculture about 9,000 years ago, around the time that our brains were the largest. An increase in grains and starches and a decrease in protein in our diets are likely to blame since these changes often cause nutrient deficiencies.

Scientists at Cambridge studying the shift in brain size compared fossil samples of human remains from around the world, and found the shrinking brain occurred only in areas where agriculture became the main source of food.

Still, researchers are quick to point out that the size of our brain does not impact our intelligence, and a shrinking brain is nothing to worry about since smaller brains work more efficiently and use less energy.

What the Winter Loss Survey Tells Us About Colony Collapse Disorder (And it ain’t pretty.)


What the Winter Loss Survey Tells Us About Colony Collapse Disorder

(And it ain’t pretty.)


Posted 14 June 2011, by Kim Flottum, The Daily Green,

The Daily Green has changed its pointer a bit recently, and The Beekeeper hasn’t been as active here as before. But TheDailyGreen still hosts all of the Beekeeper’s contributions because they support the fundamentals of getting, and keeping a healthy honey bee population. The Beekeeper has moved though, and is still making contributions to other blogs. The most recent is a Mother Earth News blog, which harkens back to my youth certainly, and now again because they are seeking good information on bees and beekeeping. Interestingly, my people here at Bee Culture Magazine have put together a blog page for me also, so there will be regular updates for colony collapse disorder and other beekeeping issues, plus all the regular information on getting started and keeping going with bees, just like here. That blog address will be, but it’s not up quite yet… I’ll pass along that information as soon as I have it.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already heard, the USDA has released the results of their latest winter loss survey.

The last four paragraphs are telling, and rather than rewrite them I simply copy them here…

Preliminary survey results indicate that 30% of managed honey bee colonies in the United States were lost during the 2010/2011 winter. The percentage of losses have remained relatively steady (near or above 30%) over the last 5 years. Specifically, previous survey results indicated that 34% of the total colony loss in the winters of 2009/2010; 29% in 2008/2009; 36% in 2007/2008; and 32% in 2006/2007.

If we consider colony losses within individual beekeeper’s operations, then responding U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 38.4% of their operation. This is a 3.8 point or 9.0% decrease in the average operational loss experienced by U.S. beekeepers during the winter of 2009/2010. Beekeepers reported that, on average, they felt losses of 13% would be acceptable. Sixty-one percent of responding beekeepers reported having losses greater than this.

Colony Collapse Disorder (colony collapse disorder) is a phenomenon in which an entire colony of bees abruptly disappears from its hive. Of beekeepers surveyed who reported losing some colonies, 31% lost at least some of their colonies without the presence of dead bees. We cannot confirm that these colonies had colony collapse disorder, but respondents to this question reported higher average colony losses (61%) than those respondents who lost colonies but did not report the absence of dead bees (34%).

It is important to note that this survey only reports on losses that occur during the winter and does not capture the colony losses that occur throughout the summer as queens or entire colonies fail and need to be replaced. Preliminary data from other survey efforts suggest that these “summer losses” can also be significant. Beekeepers can replace colonies lost in the summer and winter by splitting the populations of surviving colonies to establish a new hive. This process is expensive, so replacing 30% of the nation’s colonies annually is not considered sustainable over the long-term.

Now recall…

Before Varroa mites came to the U.S., average winter losses for all beekeepers hovered right around 15%, give or take a little when winters were harder, or softer. But right about the time Varroa came here, many, if not most commercial operations began the almond quest, so they started moving from northern honey production areas to southern honey, split and overwintering spots, so they could requeen and build up their colonies to move west to California in February, or earlier, for almond pollination. That’s went winter losses began to climb to about 20% a year, more or less, depending on winter. But Varroa was the culprit, for sure.

So when you get a report that winter losses are now hovering right around 30%, you can see that times are twice as hard as they were before Varroa reared its ugly little head, and half again as hard as after it arrived. As my friend Jerry says… Times are hard.

And in the 26 years Varroa has been here, science has done a wonderful job of telling beekeepers how bad things are, that viruses and diseases are running rampant in our colonies, that our bees are not getting enough good food to eat, and that we are still not controlling Varroa… and if we did, most of the viruses and diseases would be less of a problem.

So, after several years of reporting on this issue on these pages, not a whole lot has changed, has it?

My cynical side says that if the problem was solved, what would all the honey bee scientists in the world do for a living… but that’s not fair, is it? My beekeeping side says that Varroa is the toughest nut we’ve ever had to crack, and it has to be cracked by better management (that would be me), better bees (that would be the queen producers and queen breeders), and better science (all the white coats looking for answers). And we are getting there.

A paper just out from the University of California in San Francisco provided another big window on what’s wrong with our bees by cataloging all the viruses (nearly 30, including 4 never seen before) bees have, and, interestingly, that the problems bees have with all these beasties seems to be cyclical… perhaps more like us getting colds in the winter than we would like to believe. You can find that paper here, and it makes for very, very interesting reading.

Well, that’s the summary and the update and the status of Colony Collapse Disorder as of today… early June, 2011. We’ve spent a lot of time here during the last couple of years or so, and I hope you’ll do two things… keep up with… They do a great job here, and I always enjoy what they have to say… and, when time permits, take a look at my new blogs at Mother Earth News, and If keeping bees, or keeping up with beekeeping is important to you, we’ll keep you up to date at those two locations.

Thanks for reading all of these entries… It’s been fun, and I hope you gained something because of them…

Kim Flottum, The Beekeeper.

Water Walkers Finish Trek In Bad River

Water Walkers Finish Trek In Bad River

Posted 13 June 2011, by Mike Simonson, Ashland Current,

After 60 days of walking from four salt water coasts, the Mother Earth Water Walk finished on Sunday on the Bad River Reservation.

Walkers left Olympia, Wash. on April 10, then from Gulfport, Miss., Machias, Maine and Churchill, Man., finishing on Waverly Beach. Each group carried a copper pail of water. Elder Josephine Mandamin told a circle of 100 people that mixing these salt waters into the fresh water of Lake Superior unites the waters of the world.

“So this is a big cycle of water that we’re uniting and we are all raising consciousness about how important the water is to us as peoples of all colors, of all races that we are united again with water,” Mandamin said.

Three boats left for nearby Madigan beach, where the waters would be poured into Lake Superior. First Nation Water Walker Sylvia Plain of Ontario says clean water can no longer be taken for granted.

“We consume it unconsciously and this isn’t an aboriginal cause. Mother Earth belongs to all people here. So we want people to think about that and to take responsibility in how they treat their water,” Plain said.

Sharon Day of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe walked 47 days from Gulfport. She says she feels 10 years younger than her age of 59.

“There’s something about having a spiritual intention to something, that no matter how physically rigorous it is, you get stronger. So I feel good,” Day said.